Google Web Accelerator: Pros & Cons

Google Labs released Google Web Accelerator (GWA) today, software you download to your computer which utilizes Google servers as a proxy for web content, delivering the pages to your system more rapidly and making your browsing experience more efficient. From the GWA information page:

Google Web Accelerator uses various strategies to make your web pages load faster, including:

  • Sending your page requests through Google machines dedicated to handling Google Web Accelerator traffic.
  • Storing copies of frequently looked at pages to make them quickly accessible.
  • Downloading only the updates if a web page has changed slightly since you last viewed it.
  • Prefetching certain pages onto your computer in advance.
  • Managing your Internet connection to reduce delays.
  • Compressing data before sending it to your computer.

There already has been much disucssion as to the pros and cons of GWA. One of the key questions is “what does Google get out of this?” Well, until now, the information Google had to generate search results from included:

  1. The content of each webpage (text, images, video, anything really)
  2. The number of pages that link to a page in question
  3. The words that people use to link to a page
  4. The sites that people click on after searching for a term

Now, by having users route their browsing through the GWA proxy, Google can track all of your browsing habits, not just those on Google’s sites or within reach of Google’s cookie. From Google’s perspective, having this wealth of web traffic data to augment their PageRank algrothms is highly beneficial. Google can learn exactly which links into a site are used, what time of day, how long you stay, and so on. In short, all the information that Nielsen Net-Ratings collects from their volunteers, Google can now collect from its users directly. An added benefit for Google might be how such information could be integrated into an expanded version of TrustRank, utilizing actual user habits to try to ferret out cross-linking scams and other ways some websites try to scam their way into higher PageRank rankings.

As this Slashdot commentator noted, “Sounds like the regular Google philosophy of conquering by improving. And they’d need our browsing habits to pull it off.”

Of course, things are never that simple.

I have previously noted some of the concerns with prefetching content, but GWA has its own share of privacy implications. Up until now, Google only could use its cookie to track and aggregate your browsing habits from Google’s own services & sites. For people utilizing GWA, Google could now log every URL you visit via their proxy logs. This makes many of the privacy concerns with personalized search and Google’s My Search History dwarf in comparison.

Consider: First, Google collected your search information. Next they scanned your email. Add to that your Usenet posts, where you’re going or where you live, what you’re buying and reading, what kind of news you’re interested in, and maybe even who your friends are. You put it all together, that is quite a bit of personal information at their disposal.

Brad Hill’s perspective:

Google WebAccelerator, the latest Labs project, grabs control of your browser’s navigation commands and loads Web pages faster. That’s the promise, anyway. Google even provides a sort of Internet odometer that tracks how much time you’ve saved. After the first flush of testing, I saved 4.1 seconds while surfing 163 pages….

Caching is part of the Web Accelerator’s technique, of course, along with prefetching, compressing, and “managing your Internet connection.” Yikes. You know that feeling when somebody stands too close to you? That’s how WebACcelerator makes me feel. Anyway, you can easily turn this thing on and off, and keep a list of domains at which it will not operate. You can also uninstall it, of course.

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